Esports in Scotland: From Grassroots to Budding Ecosystem
Esports is a booming global industry, so what is Scotland’s place in it all? Grassroots awareness, public perception and youth engagement are all in the spotlight with James Hood, Founder of Esports Scotland.
Gaming holds a sacred place in the hearts of many. From the early days of arcade games through to the modern era, gaming has evolved to become a staple aspect of our lives.
If one were to describe the ‘glory days’ of gaming, you may think of bustling arcade halls – filled to the brim with kids battling it out on Pacman, Street Fighter, or a myriad of other titles. Sadly, those days are more or less over. However, a new era of gaming has dawned – one that utilises the technological advances of our time and capitalises on the connected nature of our world.
Esports is arguably one of the fastest growing global trends, bringing together people from around the world and pitting them against each other in the ultimate battle of skill and dedication. From arcade competitions in the 80s and LAN parties in the early 90s to the meteoric rise of massive multiplayer online games in the past decade, gamers have been gradually building the foundations of what we see today.
Technological advances in computing have enabled the development of powerful gaming platforms with impressive visual capabilities, while the continued growth of high-speed internet access has allowed developers to create highly immersive, interactive real-time online environments.
Games have improved consistently over the years. However, it’s the advent of social media and online platforms that has lit the fuse of an industry ready to explode; creating new communities and giving rise to a new breed of competitive gamer. Many stream their content on social media platforms, such as Youtube or Twitch to international audiences both big and small.
Some streamers, like Pokimane, Shroud or Dr DisRespect, attract thousands of viewers eager to watch their idols battle it out on titles such as League of Legends or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG). The popularity of certain game titles, combined with the availability of these platforms and the stardom of the people on your screen have all helped fuel the rise of esports thus far – and will continue to, so long as the Hollywood-style celebrity allure of gaming grows.
While social media has made our world smaller and brought people from many backgrounds together, so too does the esports industry. Teams or individuals from South Korea can take on players in the UK, USA or wherever they choose.
It is a global community, rich in diversity and appears to be a community from which society can learn a lot about diversity.
The importance of this sector cannot be understated. While calls for esports to be recognised at the Olympics regularly permeate, the industry generates incredible amounts of revenue. By 2020, the global market is expected to generate more than $1.5 billion in annual revenues – which will come primarily from sponsorships and advertising – and broadcast to an estimated global audience of more than 600 million fans.
This revenue growth is also helping to boost top publishers’ sales. Electronic Arts (EA) reported in Q4 of 2017 that more than 18 million players engaged in competitive gaming on FIFA 18 and Madden.
While this global industry and its various communities continue to thrive and develop, in Scotland there are some who hope to tap into this revolution; though it will take time and patience to cement the nation’s place in the esports world.
From the Ground Up
James Hood, Founder of Esports Scotland, has grandiose plans for the Scottish gaming community. While the community here is small, he believes it is vibrant and diverse enough to have great potential.
To establish Scotland as a global player in the gaming scene, though, we must start building at the grassroots level – that will require communities to come together and interact, for industry to engage and role models to take the reins and help people to put themselves out there.
Hood’s motive for launching Esports Scotland was due to what he described as a ‘lack of information about what was going on’ in the scene. As a lifelong gamer, he has always been into games but noticed there wasn’t the same patchwork of fans and enthusiasts that one can find in other sports.
To solve this, he started a Facebook group which set in motion the early days of Esports Scotland.
“From SNES to Xbox, PC’s or whatever, it’s always something I’ve loved to do,” he says. “And around five years ago when the Xbox One came out I created a Facebook group called “Xbox One Scotland” – which grew to around 500 or so members.”
Hood adds: “That was a community where members could discuss games, share things and engage with other people and it worked. esports is something that I wish has been around when I was younger, competing with others on a number of games and so I began researching the eSports scene in Scotland. From there it kind of snowballed.”
His tentative attempts to elevate the esports scene in Scotland gained traction, with a Facebook page highlighting all the goings on in the gaming community. However, it became clear that the country struggled with a singular, concise network through which to communicate and interact.
“What I found was that people who were in say, Stirling, didn’t know about events in Kirkcaldy or Glasgow. This was an issue to me, though, because how can it grow if it’s fragmented, so to speak?”
Esports in Scotland
Throughout the early stages of the process, Hood says there have been significant challenges for the community. Contacting publishers to gain access for games such as Dota, Street Fighter or League of Legends was difficult.
However, over time and through communication with industry figures, things have improved. The association received a custom license for Blizzard’s critically acclaimed title, Overwatch, and in October 2018 the association will host BIG Fest 2018.
Held at The Biscuit Factory in Edinburgh, BIG Fest is the finals of the Scottish Esports League season one, along with the Overwatch Esports Scotland Cup. This marks a crucial moment in the development of Esports Scotland, as it is the first large-scale offline event.
With a growing support network and flourishing community things appear to be in motion for Esports, however, Hood insists that it’s simply a case of taking things day-by-day and not overextending the team.
“We have a team so far of about 27 volunteers, ranging from project managers to marketing and operations and content teams.
“What’s been great from this is I’ve had previous experience with Strawberry Wedding Films (Hood’s other business venture) but with Esports it’s been great as everybody has bought into the idea and we’re all running with it, seeing where it will go.”
For esports in Scotland to flourish, Hood claims, young people have to be engaged and allowed to flourish. Considering the growing popularity of the sport among young people, it’s no secret that the key to future success lies in their interest and engagement in the process.
“Kids are always going to love computer games”, he says. “For as long as I remember, going back to the 90s, myself and my friends all love it. I think that’s why it’s been easy to grow this so far – they need an outlet for it.”
Hood suggested that the growing popularity of the sport in Scotland comes through a lack of options for many young people today. The restriction of creativity in their day-to-day lives is inhibitive, however, like with all sports, this is providing a means to be creative and express themselves in a number of ways.
“What I’ve found so far is that there aren’t a lot of places for people to express themselves and focus their passions,” he noted. “And that doesn’t just apply to gaming, that applies to creative video, web design or whatever. The options just aren’t there sometimes.
“It’s nice to see that this is giving people a new avenue to express themselves. It’s providing opportunities for volunteers to add to their CVs or develop skills, as I’ve mentioned before. All of these things are positive and while people might not associate gaming with skills development, it certainly shows there’s something there.
Self-promotion is something that Hood feels Scotland often struggles with. The age-old parochial attitudes that some Scots perpetuate easily seep into new areas and this could stifle the growth of esports as well.
“Countries all around the world are taking part in esports, Germany in particular in Europe, and we’re doing the quintessential British thing and being pessimistic about it at times”, he says.
With esports, perception barriers must be removed before the scene can truly flourish, he notes, as there’s a deeply ingrained stigma regarding what gaming really is.
“It’s like anything in life that people don’t understand,” he explains. “They become sceptical and talk it down. esports isn’t just some guy in his boxers, eating Doritos in a basement somewhere playing games all day. It’s a serious industry and we should take it seriously ourselves.”
Hood adds: “We need to educate people and let them see we’re doing positive things and there are so many great skills that can come from engaging in esports; communication values, teamwork and problem-solving skills. You can put people from any walk of life together in a room and they’ll become a team.”
While he conceded that Scotland has a long way to go with esports, there is a broad range of inspiration to draw from. Scotland’s vibrant games development sector and the nation’s industries all showcase great potential – regardless of Scotland’s size on a global scale.
In recent decades, Scotland has developed industries from a grassroots level to become areas of global focus. The technology sector in Scotland, as a prime example, proves that the country can have a huge impact. Within the games industry specifically, developers have illuminated the Scottish scene and showcase some of the finest innovation and creativity found anywhere on Earth.
Hood is eager to impress this notion, highlighting Rockstar as a prime example.
“When we look at Scotland specifically,” he says. “We have Rockstar in Edinburgh and a host of other games developers in Dundee or around the country. It’s a massive part of the country’s economy and we should look to capitalise on that profile when raising awareness of esports – we’ve got the potential.”